Mississippi polling: Gingrich up 4 in ARG, Romney up 8 in Rasmussen

Newt Gingrich’s Southern strategy seems to be holding in Mississippi — but that depends on which pollster you read.  A new ARG poll puts Gingrich in front with four days to go before their primary, but only by four points over Mitt Romney (via Twitchy):

Newt Gingrich leads the Mississippi Republican presidential primary with 35%. Gingrich is followed by Mitt Romney with 31%, Rick Santorum with 20%, and Ron Paul with 7%.

Gingrich leads Romney 37% to 32% among self-identified Republicans, followed by Santorum with 21% and Paul with 3%. Among self-identified independents and Democrats, Paul leads with 33%, followed by Romney with 24%, Gingrich with 20%, and Santorum with 14%.

Gingrich leads Romney 37% to 30% among likely Republican primary voters saying they will definitely vote in the March 6 primary, followed by Santorum with 17% and Paul with 5%. Romney leads Santorum 40% to 20% among those saying they will probably vote, followed by Paul with 18% and Gingrich with 13%.

This poll has two surprises in it.  First, Gingrich’s lead isn’t statistically significant in this poll of 600 likely primary voters; it’s equal to the margin of error.  Second, his closest challenger is Mitt Romney, who also had surprising strength in Rasmussen’s poll of likely Alabama voters today.  Santorum’s distant third in this poll doesn’t help his case for conservative consolidation, either, and is surprisingly weak considering his traction among conservative voters and evangelicals.

Gingrich’s lead improves to seven points among those definitely planning to vote on Tuesday.  However, the next tier of likelihood (7-9 on the self-reported probability scale) shows a huge advantage for Romney, 40/20 over Santorum, with Gingrich actually coming in fourth at 13%.  That was only 10% of the likely-vote sample, but it puts an ironic twist on a common Gingrich criticism of Romney — that he can only win when voter turnout is low.  In this case, it appears that a high turnout favors Romney over the field by a wide margin.

However, Mississippi looks like a lock for Romney in Rasmussen’s poll, which has him up by eight over both Gingrich and Santorum:

Rasmussen Reports’ first Republican primary survey in Mississippi shows former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney leading his closest competitors by eight points.

A new statewide telephone survey of Likely GOP Primary Voters in the Magnolia State shows Romney with 35% of the vote, while former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich each draw support from 27%. Texas Congressman Ron Paul runs last with six percent (6%). One percent (1%) prefers some other candidate, and four percent (4%) are undecided.

However, when the race is narrowed down to just the top two national front-runners, it’s Romney 46%, Santorum 44%.

The internals are a little more clear for Romney than in the three-way Alabama tie.  Romney leads among both men and women, leads each age demo (by twelve over Gingrich among seniors, 41/29), and among both Republicans and independents outside the margin of error.  Electability is slightly more of a priority in Mississippi than in Alabama (57/35 over “Republican values”), and once again Romney wins the “strongest candidate” argument by 15 points, 42/27 over Gingrich with Santorum at 18%.

Of the two polls, I put more stock in Rasmussen, but we’ll see how it shakes out on Tuesday.  If Romney wins one or both Southern states, it’s going to be hard to argue that the race is still winnable for either Santorum or Gingrich.  Meanwhile, Gary Bauer has some advice for Gingrich while he’s at least in the hunt for two victories — get out:

Armed with a poll of 200,000 conservatives, Bauer, head of Campaign for Working Families, said, “Now is the time for conservatives to stand with Senator Santorum.” …

“A strong consensus is emerging at the conservative grass roots to unite behind Senator Santorum,” said Bauer. “There is great admiration for Newt Gingrich’s contributions to conservatism, as well as his debating abilities. But the overwhelming sentiment was that he could most help the conservative cause by standing with Santorum so that voters have a clear choice in the remaining primaries.”

Don’t expect Gingrich to take that advice any time soon, and at least not until Wednesday at the earliest.

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